To Overcome Challenges, Build Relationships

Scott Clithero

In his nine years of teaching, Scott Clithero has learned a profound lesson: You have to build relationships with people before they will listen.

“I never considered myself a people person,” Scott said. “I was more interested in information itself than in how the information was packaged. I soon realized that before you can teach, you have to establish relationships with your students and colleagues. Now, that’s the most important part of the job to me.”

Scott is a Missouri Regional Teacher of the Year for 2017-18. He teaches math at St. Louis College Prep and will begin instructional coaching full time this fall. It’s an interesting turn of events for a guy who wasn’t initially interested in a career in education. Several family members were teachers, but Scott didn’t want to follow that path. While he was studying at Mizzou, though, he began working with the athletics department as a tutor for student athletes.

“I knew math really well, and I felt I could tutor,” Scott said. “Through that experience, I learned that I had talent. No other fields seemed satisfying as a career, so I got interested in education.”

Even then, Scott was more focused on how people learn than he was on teaching math. He said he was interested in finding the best ways to get people to learn and in setting the foundation for inquiry.

At first, Scott wasn’t looking beyond teaching. However, through working with school leaders, he became interested in leadership and instructional coaching. He loves it, even with the concomitant challenges.

“I give advice and hold my colleagues accountable,” Scott said. “But I don’t have the authority to do much if someone falls short of the standards we set. I have to motivate through relationships, not position.”

Scott motivates by celebrating his colleagues’ achievements in the classroom and offering constructive suggestions for improvement, talking about challenges and forming a plan for success.

Scott has spent his teaching career primarily at charter public schools. He enjoys the freedom of a charter school to quickly make changes. He says that St. Louis College Prep’s organization has the flexibility to meet each student’s needs. Scott is one of the first people the students see when they come to school.

“We want the kids to be greeted by an adult as they come in, so a colleague and I shake their hands and welcome them every morning,” he said. “Kids will do more when they know you are concerned for their best interests.”

A handshake and a friendly greeting are the foundation for building relationships. Teachers are the number one school-based influence on student learning, and it has been said that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Scott is showing through his work that having healthy relationships with students – and with colleagues – can lead to mutual success.